Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Plotting the Prince

Plotting the Prince: Shōtoku Cults and the Mapping of Medieval Japanese Buddhism

Kevin Gray Carr
Copyright Date: 2012
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Plotting the Prince
    Book Description:

    Plotting the Princetraces the development of conceptual maps of the world created through the telling of stories about Prince Shotoku (573?-622?), an eminent statesman who is credited with founding Buddhism in Japan. It analyzes his place in the sacred landscape and the material relics of the cult of personality dedicated to him, focusing on the art created from the tenth to fourteenth centuries. The book asks not only who Shotoku was, but also how images of his life served the needs of devotees in early medieval Japan.Even today Shotoku evokes images of a half-real, half-mythical figure who embodied the highest political, social, and religious ideals. Taking up his story about four centuries after his death, this study traces the genesis and progression of Shotoku's sacred personas in art to illustrate their connection to major religious centers such as Shitenno-ji and Horyu-ji. It argues that mapping and storytelling are sister acts-both structuring the world in subtle but compelling ways-that combined in visual narratives of Shotoku's life to shape conceptions of religious legitimacy, communal history, and sacred geography.Plotting the Princeintroduces much new material and presents provocative interpretations that call upon art historians to rethink fundamental conceptions of narrative and cultic imagery. It offers social and political historians a textured look at the creation of communal identities on both local and state levels, scholars of religion a substantially new way of understanding key developments in doctrine and practice, and those studying the past in general a clear instance of visual hagiography taking precedence over the textual tradition.72 illus., 32 in color

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6572-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION: The Lay of the Land
    (pp. 1-19)

    When you enter the Picture Hall at the temple of Hōryū-ji, the light is so dim that you cannot see anything. Slowly, your eyes adjust: shadows become shapes, shapes become objects, and objects spread themselves across a space that seems almost too vast to contemplate. In the soft light, you might for a moment think you are looking out a great window, viewing the familiar countryside just outside the temple walls. Yet this is not a window; it is the work of an artist (figure 0.1). Paintings mounted on three walls form a panoramic landscape, overwhelming in scale and complexity...

  7. Part I. Faces of Shōtoku:: Cultic Identities through Time

    • Chapter One Ways to Tell a Sacred Life: HAGIOGRAPHIC IMAGINATION IN MEDIEVAL JAPAN
      (pp. 23-46)

      Prince Shōtoku was one of the first historical figures in Japanese history to be treated as something more than human, and the many extant hagiographies reveal continual negotiations of his divine status over a period of more than one thousand years. His cult cut through social, sectarian, and geographic divisions, so that he can be said to have been a truly popular deity who served as a paradigm for many subsequent hagiographies and apotheoses. Even in this century, Shōtoku’s divine status seems only to have grown as new media have been employed to shape and spread his image. Whether through...

    • Chapter 2 The Lives of the Prince: SHŌTOKU ACROSS ASIA
      (pp. 47-69)

      When juxtaposed with other hagiographic traditions, one of the most prominent characteristics of Shōtoku’s “life story”—and, at least in theory, Buddhist biography in general—is its open-endedness. While the narrative of a life may seem to be easily bracketed by the unmistakable realities of birth and death, in a worldview in which rebirth is assumed, the borders of each biologically bounded “life” are only apparent, and the complete picture of a being’s existence is theoretically almost limit less in scope. Legends recount only a relatively small number of Shōtoku’s lives, yet their geographical and temporal range still allowed the...

    • Chapter 3 Japanese Spirit: A NEW BUDDHA FOR TROUBLED TIMES
      (pp. 70-103)

      There is a distinct narrative shape to the legends of Shōtoku. Thus far, he has been discussed as an avatar of Kannon and as a composite of many lives that spanned the history of Buddhism on the Asian continent and in Japan. Yet it is clear that the appearance of the prince in the sixth century was understood not merely as one of many, essentially discrete miraculous appearances of the bodhisattva. Rather, each manifestation recounted in Shōtoku’s hagiography was organically linked to previous and subsequent lives, the workings of a unique “individual.” Since the hagiographies never recount any lives preceding...

  8. Part II. Mapping Shōtoku’s Tale:: CULTIC IDENTITIES IN PLACE

      (pp. 107-126)

      The Western Precinct (Sai-in) of Hōryū-ji in present-day Nara Prefecture, with its towering pagoda and elegant Golden Hall, sees waves of visitors stream through it every day. The buildings stand as the oldest examples of continental-style wooden architecture in Japan, and the sculptures in those halls are central characters in the story of the introduction of Buddhism to the country. The landscape around the temple is dotted with many sites that have significance in the life of the prince, and from its inception as a religious site, Hōryū-ji was a major center for the production of Shōtoku-related art, literature, and...

    • Chapter 5 Siting Shōtoku: STRUCTURING NARRATIVE AT HŌRYŪ-JI
      (pp. 127-170)

      Location is paramount in the Picture Hall at Hōryū-ji. The paintings were, from their inception, meant to be displayed as a set arranged in a very specific place. A complete understanding of these pieces must be grounded in their original setting, along with all that it implies about their use and reception. The previous chapter considered the position of the Picture Hall paintings in the early history of Shōtoku cults and within Hōryū-ji as a site abstracted from its cultural environment. This chapter takes a wider view. Through close examination of their narrative structure, composition, and architectural and ritual contexts,...

  9. EPILOGUE: Afterlives
    (pp. 171-178)

    “Shōtoku” is an ever-shifting center. The first half of this book showed how the prince, as the focus of a widespread transsectarian cult, integrated into his person diverse times and places, thereby symbolically overcoming a sense of distance from sources of Buddhist authority. The latter half of this study explored the origins of this vision at Hōryū-ji in the eleventh century, showing how Shōtoku’s hagiography structured a particular conceptual map of a recentered Buddhist world. Yet as a textual, artistic, and conceptual object, Shōtoku was a profoundly centrifugal cultural force, and the framework that the Picture Hall paintings imposed on...

  10. APPENDIX: List of Selected Events in the Life of the Legendary Shōtoku
    (pp. 179-188)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-216)
    (pp. 217-240)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 241-245)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 246-247)